Considering Politics? Consider This.

"Radio was the definitive reason why we were able to do something that has never been done before in electoral politics – turn around an election with a week to go and behind by more than 40 points in the polls," said Dr. Henry Nicholas III, addressing the SCBA Board of Directors at their December meeting, "It was pretty much a foregone conclusion that we were going to lose the fight against changing the state's 'Three Strikes Law.' You’ve seen a presidential election – to move even ten points in a week is unbelievable!"

Nicholas, the billionaire founder of communications leader Broadcom Corp., is a long-time supporter of victim's rights organizations, who became involved in actively combating the California ballot issue just two weeks prior to the election. "I've been involved in victim's rights for a long time," he says. "My sister was murdered some years ago. (Her murderer is in prison and unaffected by the proposed legislation.) My mother and I have become a part of a charitable foundation called, 'Justice for Homicide Victims.'

Over the course of a year and a half, a well-funded public relations effort had been working below the radar screen with a number of simple messages that created a pervasive feeling that the Three Strikes law is too tough. They said California has one of the most stringent and inflexible Three Strike initiatives of any of the states. Then there was the urban legend of the pizza thief. 'Should someone go to jail for stealing pizza?' 'The punishment should fit the crime.' You had a very strong utilization of some of these messages to gain the support of different minority sponsorship organizations."

"We had a media event two weeks prior to the election in which every living California governor – Gray Davis, Pete Wilson, Jerry Brown – appeared with Arnold Schwarzenegger. All of them, Bi-partisan – liberal and conservative alike – said Prop. 66 was a grave threat to public safety. If Prop. 66 passed, we would be releasing thousands of dangerous felons, people who should remain in jail. The only question was how many people would be affected. Prop. 66 supporters said it would be about 4,500, but the DAs did an analysis and the more accurate number is 25,000. A very dangerous threat."

"With just six days to go, the polls indicated that 71% of likely voters favored Prop 66 – almost a certainty that the measure would pass. The need for action was urgent."

"Our consultants said that TV was the way to go. Did they have any reasons why they didn’t want to use Radio? They said Radio is tacky, reaches a very narrow demographic, most people don’t really listen, it's really Talk Radio. It was a very simplistic argument about how many people tune in. They just dismissed it."

"We felt that, when it comes to a political issue, people want to know the details. A lot of consultants have completely lost the concept that beyond just getting people to recognize the issue, there has to be a vehicle for informing people."

"So, we're two weeks before the election and we at least have to let people know we’ve got an issue. We spent quite a bit of money on TV. That’s the thing about television – it’s incredibly expensive. It’s very difficult for you to get a lot of time. And, we knew that TV viewers don’t sit and listen to the arguments and we needed people to do just that.”

"We started our TV campaign on Wednesday before the election with our, 'murderers, rapists, keep them in jail' message. The other side came out with spots to refute ours and out spent us by almost 3 to 1. Their consultants told them that it was the most effective way to sway public opinion. So they [Yes on Prop 66] spent more than five million dollars between Sunday and Election Day. They had secured the TV ad inventory well in advance.

On Friday, I decided that the only way I could live with myself was if, between that day and the election on Tuesday, I would do everything in my power to fight the proposition.

Friday night, we got KABC's Ken Steele out of bed to help us make a broad-based 60-second ad featuring the ex-governors and a non-partisan message.

It was recorded by several people using home and studio equipment and distributed statewide with mp3. I never went down to the studio. I recorded something in my study on my PC and ran it through the computer to Ken on his laptop. No one ever said that our ads didn’t sound 'professional.' The production values were great. That's incredible – when you can put together yourself a professional-sounding, well-produced ad. You cannot do that with TV.

On Saturday we began knocking on doors, asking if we could buy ad time. 'Will you take a credit card?' It was unbelievable.

Saturday night, after midnight, we flew former governor Jerry Brown down to Long Beach and we made an ad together at the home studio of my friend, Ryan Shuck, who is the guitarist for the rock band Orgy. And that night Ryan and David Silvera, the drummer from Korn, made an ad that ran on rock stations across the state.

One of the powerful things is that we were really able to do it. We were on nearly every radio station, nearly every Spanish language station in the state, every rock station. The blitz itself created a sort of buzz. Radio's talk shows were very helpful. You can literally go on the air and that back-and-forth with the announcers is something people listen to. 'Kevin and Bean' gave us almost twelve minutes talking about the issue, and 'John and Ken' created more buzz. Talk show hosts can hit you with the counter arguments and you can effectively refute them."

"We went to an election night party and the first thing that happened was that I had an NPR interview on how I felt about losing. I proceeded to do three interviews on the fact that 'No On 66' had lost, 'Yes on 66' had won passage. Then the unbelievable happened. As the night went on, the numbers started moving up. No one had ever seen something like this – that such a change could occur as the numbers were coming in from the polls. It was without precedent. To win after coming back from over 40 points down. This is something I think Radio should be very proud of. It's something only Radio could have done."

"The principal medium we had available to us to articulate the message, really the only medium that would have worked, was Radio. I think that's one of the messages you need to get out to your advertisers because you have a fundamental strength that TV does not. Without Radio, it would have been impossible for someone like me to guarantee that a message gets across to an entire population or geographic area."

February 2005

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